Pringle, show us the money before you build your bullet train

Those of us who oppose the misguided high-speed train must continue to beat the drum and raise public awareness as well as to challenge CHSRA Chairman Curt Pringle regarding total funding, ridership projections and ticket prices before we move forward.

The following Editorial is from today’s San Diego’s Union-Tribune. While I should only utilize part of any publication text, I have no desire to spin their words and am crediting them as I post the entire editorial with the link to follow.

Needed: a pragmatic Pringle

No public subsidy? No investors. No investors? No bullet train

By Union-Tribune Editorial Board,

Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.

The language of Proposition 1A – the November 2008 ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money toward construction of a public-private high-speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California – offered the measure’s many skeptics one crucial reassurance.

Yes, the proposition built off fantastic claims about vast annual ridership (more than double all of Amtrak’s yearly total), huge job creation, sharp traffic reduction and massive environmental relief. Yes, its price tag was almost certainly at least $20 billion too low. Yes, there was an utter disconnect between promises about the speed with which the bullet train would go from San Francisco to Los Angeles and the many stops it would have to make all the way. Yes, there was a delusional quality to the assertion that an S.F.-to-L.A. ticket would cost just $55.

But a key provision in Proposition 1A protects taxpayers from this looming boondoggle: its explicit prohibition on any public operating subsidy. This means that investors – who must contribute at least $10 billion toward the system – will ultimately determine whether the bullet-train system is built. And with their risk of financial loss from an unsound investment, they are far less likely than voters to be bamboozled by the preposterous claims made by the political and media establishment.

That’s exactly what is happening. The first business plan released by the California High Speed Rail Authority said potential private investors “made it clear that they would need both financial and political commitments from state officials that government would share the risks to their participation.” The authority’s second business plan said private investors wanted revenue guarantees. Unsurprisingly, last month, the Legislative Analyst’s Office weighed in with an analysis saying a revenue guarantee violated the ban on subsidies.

Incredibly, however, the rail authority treated this as a minor semantic problem, with a spokesman saying it would instead offer a “ridership guarantee” – as if that wasn’t the same thing as a revenue guarantee.

So we sought the perspective of Curt Pringle – the capable, pragmatic mayor of Anaheim who is also the chairman of rail authority board.

Last week, Pringle e-mailed back to say authority lawyers were now trying to craft a legally defensible ridership guarantee. This was a welcome acknowledgment that this is a genuine issue. But he also said it is one of “many challenges” the project faced.

Huh? It is the most fundamental challenge of all. The law says the bullet-train system can’t have a public operating subsidy. The law says there must be substantial private investment or the project can’t be built. But private investors want a guarantee from the government limiting their risk – i.e., a subsidy – if the system doesn’t live up to projections.

All the legal trickery in the world can’t reconcile these conflicting facts. The bullet-train zealots staffing the rail authority will never admit this. At some point, however, Pringle will need to step up – and prove his reputation for pragmatism is deserved.

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Gilbert final thoughts. Until and unless Mr Pringle can “show us the money” to commence this grandious special interest project we must continue to keep the fire burning below his feet.

Mayor Pringle. A ridership “guarantee is a subsidy.”

Getting $2.25 billion in high speed rail Stimulus funding is barely a down payment for this 800 mile bullet train that the Reason Foundation has projected to cost upwards of $100 billion dollars by the time the entire track is in place.  Voters were told that the system would be 800 miles when barely approving Prop 1A. It is not 800 miles from Anaheim to LA no matter how lost you can get driving on any of our freeways. If the CHSRA begins construction of this system without having funding for all 800 miles, and stops the project, CA voters would have been conned to get their approval for the $Nine billion of Prop 1A that is to be dedicated to this effort.

About Larry Gilbert